Chic FASHION, fine DINING – and hard-core WORKOUTS! A wellness revolution is sweeping PARIS – and START-UPS are muscling in.
It all started with Parisian resident Giuseppe. He loves to run, which wasn’t always the case. For many years, he sat at a desk running his company and he was starting to get a bit tubby, so he decided to embrace a new hobby. Within six months of rising early to run around beautiful lakes and along tree-lined running paths he was back to his trim self. Now he runs marathons.
To help him achieve his upmost level of fitness he hired trainer Zaima Bouta, a high-school physical education teacher who works for the start-ups Urban Running and Urban Challenge.
Founded by Jean-Philippe Benoist in 2012, the start-ups have American-style names because Americans are known for their love of fitness whereas the French had, stereotypically, preferred to sit in cafes and watch passers-by. Today, that has all changed. A fitness revolution has well and truly taken the French capital by storm.
“It started 10 years ago and really increased five years ago,” says Zaima. “[The fitness scene] is changing all the time and is becoming more diverse. It’s not just in a gym anymore. It’s out on the street and women have more access. When I studied for my university degree there weren’t many women studying sports back then, but now courses have been adapted for women and there are many more women trainers than ever.”
According to Zaima, French women – long obsessed by their appearance – are now looking more at their wellbeing. The Parisian fitness scene is booming, fuelled by social media and health trends like Crossfit – and new start-ups are catering to people’s health desires.
Go any weekend to Paris’s outdoor landmarks - the Bois de Vincennes, the Bois de Boulogne, the Buttes de Chaumont and the inner-city Luxembourg Gardens – and you will witness joggers wearing bright, fashionable outfits running for dear life.
In Paris, fitness fans share their workout experiences on Facebook and Instagram where workout videos are popular and, according to Zaima, it creates “a fashion”. And, the fitness craze isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“The kind of activities that interest the[people here] aren’t necessarily from France,” says Zaima. “It was Zumba before, now it’s CrossFit that’s in vogue, so we’re planning an activity around that.” >
Americans are KNOWN for their love of FITNESS whereas the FRENCH had, stereotypically, PREFERRED to sit in cafes and WATCH passers-by. Today, that has ALL changed.
The aim of Urban Challenge is to bring people together through exercise. Situated in 14 different locations around Paris, it provides a military-style fitness regime in one-hour sessions and it’s sign-ups are 62 percent women with the average age of 29 to 30.
In contrast, Urban Running attracts serious runners often aiming for the city’s marathons and has roughly more men with an average age of 38.
The problem with the French is that many are not keen to rise early for exercise, says Zaima. “I’ve spent time in South Africa and I’m sure it’s the same in Australia where people are at the gym at six o’clock and it’s a crowded place. We don’t have that at all.”
It’s very IMPORTANT for MOTIVATION because you have your FRIENDS going there so they WILL give you INCENTIVE to go.
Early in the business, he realised that to succeed they would need to target midday exercisers. “That’s clearly a cultural aspect. They want to do sports at lunchtime and we work with around 30 companies to facilitate that.”
And, it’s just as popular during the work week as on weekends. Despite many French employees having “tickets restaurants” – where they can eat a meal at their companies’ expense – more are instead spending their lunchbreaks indulging in exercise.
Runners zig-zag across the Seine on the city’s many famous bridges, circle around the Eiffel Tower and make their way along the former riverside road that is now closed to traffic – an initiative of the city’s ground-breaking mayor, Anne Hidalgo. But they’re not working out alone. For Parisians, it’s important that the activity is social, and Zaima was well aware of this when setting up his now rapidly expanding enterprise. He was also smart in utilising outdoors spaces which, apart from the enjoyment factor, is also cost-effective.
“In 2010, I had been working as a banker in London and I was coming back to Paris when a friend of my now-wife said there was this activity in London which was very popular,” the 38-year-old recalls. “It’s called British Military Fitness and was started by former soldiers and at the time they were in 42 cities and around 300 locations doing this sports training.
This kind of group activity seemed like a good idea, and a growing trend. “It’s very important for motivation because you have your friends going there so they will give you incentive to go,” he says. “Also, people don’t have much time to travel [to workout]. This kind of bootcamp in the street uses the material at their disposal.”
When it comes to coaches, Urban Challenge hires a lot of super-fit firemen, who have a high level of training (and, as a bonus, are usually very good looking!).
Unsurprisingly for such a fashionable city, looks matter even when you’re exercising in Paris. But fashion is different to the chic, muted tones of women’s daily life. On the jogging tracks of Paris, they get to let loose with bright fluoro colours and business is booming for sports-goods manufacturers.
“Before they didn’t have these flashy colours,” Zaima says. “It was all grey, black, camel and navy blue. Whereas now it’s bright pink and red and striking blue for sport.”
To be close to the action, the entrepreneur has relocated to central Paris near the Pompidou Centre in an office he shares with a bike-hire company – the other latest Parisian fad.
The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has authorised the construction of bike paths throughout the city – if only cyclists would stick to them. In a typical one-way street, cyclists can be seen travelling in the wrong direction, which is a problem.
“It’s progress,” Zaima chuckles. “Certainly there’s an animosity between the bikes and the cars, and between the bikes and the rest of the people in Paris. I don’t know why but the cyclists aren’t very attentive and they think they have all rights because it’s the priority of the city. I find it weird.”
Then, of course, there are the Paris Olympics in 2024, where the Mayor cleverly pitched her beloved city by showcasing events along the Seine. “They had the track where you could do sports for the whole day and they had boat races on the Seine,” Zaima recalls. “It was very impressive.”
They managed to unite people to the cause of the Olympics of Paris 2024, and everyone felt they were involved. “Paris is becoming more and more oriented towards sport,” he notes. “It will reach a peak with the Olympics with the renovation of the parks and stadiums. I can see, people are becoming more and more sporty in their heads while the administration is accommodating more sport than they once did. The politics of sport is on the up!”
It will reach a PEAK with the OLYMPICS with the RENOVATION of the PARKS and STADIUMS.